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5th Life: No One Comes Forward To Challenge Spector, Despite Complaints That She Doesn't Spend Enough Time In District


Rikki Spector | Image by Jefferson Jackson Steele
Rochelle "Rikki" Spector

wants more people to live in Baltimore City--171,000 more people, to be exact. And the 5th District city councilwoman is proud of the $18 million in public money she helped bring to Park Heights to help make it a more attractive place for people and their employers to move.

"Jobs have to sleep somewhere," Spector says.

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But Spector, who with 30 years on the City Council and no primary opposition is the longest-serving elected politician in state history, doesn't often sleep in the district she represents, and that irks some of her constituents.

"I want my representative to be tucked in bed down the street from me at night," says Baltimore

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Jewish Times

executive editor Phil Jacobs, who recently complained in a

about the fact that Spector spends much of her time out of her Northwest Baltimore district. "I want them grocery shopping where I shop. I want them to hear the buzz I hear. How the hell is she going to hear that if she's down in Harbor Street?"

Actually, Spector resides at 100 Harborview Drive, in a two-bedroom, 1600-square-foot condominium that Oscar Brilliant, her longtime companion, owns. The 20th-floor unit is assessed for tax purposes at $620,000.

The question of where Spector sleeps received new attention in June when

Sun

columnist Laura Vozzella made it an item. Vozzella followed a

Sun

reporter's account from a City Council committee meeting where a community activist asked Spector to recuse herself from voting on Harborview's proposed new condominium towers project because she lives there.

Spector did not recuse herself, explaining to Vozzella that while she spends "a lot of time" at Harborview, she has "no investment" in the property.

"My address truthfully is 7404 Park Heights Avenue," Spector says in an interview. "I've been a widow for 17 years and have had a boyfriend for 13 years. My boyfriend lives in Harborview. I am entitled to my private life."

It is a practiced answer, which she laughingly sums up with, "My next boyfriend I guarantee will be in the 5th District."

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But Spector has the right to keep living in Harborview, even if Brilliant dies, according to an agreement she made in February with Brilliant's heirs (

). And, although Spector has no ownership interest in either of the two Harborview units Brilliant owns, if he dies, she can live in one of them free of charge, paying no taxes, no condo fees, not even a cable or electric bill.

With 24-hour security and free garage parking at Harborview, Spector has insulated herself from nearly every annoyance of city life. "That's an option I had," she says. "And wouldn't you like to have that option? It's a private part of my life that I have in the interest of pursuing my happiness."

Spector was appointed to fill the City Council seat of her husband, Allen, when he was appointed to the post of circuit court judge in 1977. Allen Spector was convicted in 1980 of bribery along with lobbyist, real-estate developer, and a longtime Maryland political operative Maurice Wyatt, a man who also functioned as Allen Spector's adviser. A judge ruled that developers had paid Allen Spector in an effort to win exemptions from a Baltimore County sewer moratorium. Spector was removed from the bench and disbarred in 1982.

Rikki Spector says she serves her district well, as evidenced by her lack of opposition. "That [Vozzella] article came out in plenty of time for someone to run against me," Spector notes.

"Rikki Spector definitely deserves to have someone run against her," says Aaron Meisner, the coordinating chairman of Stop Slots Maryland, a lobby group that opposes slot machines at Pimlico Race Course. Meisner says he considered running but decided he could more effectively serve the community elsewhere.

Aside from his disagreement with Spector on gambling, Meisner says Spector is ineffective and out of touch with her district. He points out that she is one of only two council members (the other being brand-new appointee Vernon Crider) who neither chairs nor vice chairs a council committee. "One of the primary reasons to elect an incumbent legislator is because seniority lets them take a leadership position," he says. "And Rikki has clearly avoided taking that leadership position."

Spector has a ready answer. "The reason I don't is that I represent the City Council on the Planning Commission, which is all day Thursday," she says. "On Wednesdays I go to Annapolis [to lobby for state money]. Monday is City Council, and I need two days a week for constituent service."

Even Meisner gives Spector high marks for constituent service. She also attends committee meetings and is always accessible. But Meisner is not impressed. "So she serves on the Planning Commission-what's unusual about that is it's a paid position," he says. "Is the Planning Commission the best way she can serve the 5th District? It's very important for people who live around the Inner Harbor."

Spector's campaign coffers have been generously salted by developers (Peter Angelos, Harborview, Shipyard at Lighthouse Point) and contractors (Obrecht-Phoenix, Paragon-both Harborview contractors) with a keen interest in the city's downtown and waterfront growth. And she has allied herself with politicians-Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Sheila Dixon and Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake-who have been criticized by some for shortchanging the city's neighborhoods in favor of downtown developers.

Spector makes no apologies. With no opposition and a substantial campaign fund, Spector has thrown her support behind Dixon and Rawlings-Blake, mostly to keep the city's momentum going, she says. "I've lived through many transitions," she says, "and somebody from the outside has a lot to learn."

Jacobs, of the

Jewish Times

, says Spector's support of Dixon underscores her distance from the district-11.6 miles according to Google Maps. "Drive through her neighborhood and tell me how many Sheila Dixon signs you see up and how many Keiffer [Mitchell] signs you see. You're not going to see any Dixon signs," Jacobs says.

Spector says she'll work effectively with whoever the next mayor is. "I don't have a problem with Keiffer," she says. "But I think Sheila is so far out there, she deserves support. I just think Sheila could do it better."

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